As part of the HorrorBuzz writing team, I’m covering The Sundance 2022 Film Festival this year. I’m reviewing a handful of shorts and more than half a dozen features, horror and non-horror. For my coverage, you can click my author profile on the site here. And make sure to check out our team’s coverage throughout the next week and a half. We’ll be covering dozens of films!
Was 2021 better than 2020? Well, at the end of this year, we have vaccines and booster shots. We know the best defense against the virus, and yet, the year was bookended by an insurrection in Washington, DC and a resurgent pandemic with a new variant more contagious than even the Delta. We have a new administration in Washington, and still, the sense that democracy is in crisis mode hasn’t really abated. In fact, the U.S. has been downgraded as a “backsliding democracy.” The tumult that was 2020 bled into 2021.
All of this anxiety should breed solid horror for years to come. Yet, as I went through all the films I reviewed in 2021 (more than 70 when I count the festivals I covered), this wasn’t a standout year compared to the last few. Part of this is due to the fact movies continue to face delays thanks to COVID. Still, this year featured some gems, and those are worth celebrating. So, with that, I bring you my best-of horror film list for 2021. (For my Best-of Shudder 2021 list click here).
Malignant/Directed by James Wan
This is James Wan’s love letter to giallo and 90s horror. This movie would have fit right at home with Dark Castle or Full Moon’s rooster during their heydays. Malignant delivered one of the best monsters of the year in Gabriel, a parasitic twin who could control electricity and broadcast his thoughts through speakers. His grudges and temper sent him on a course of murderous revenge. This movie is so silly and so much fun. It was the type of entertainment that we needed this year.
PG: Psycho Goreman/Directed by Steven Kostanski
Here’s another stellar creature feature. Matthew Ninaber gives a knockout performance as a malevolent space lord…who ends up with the name Psycho Goreman, or PG for short. After he lands on Earth, a group of kids finds a magical stone, and with it, they can command the space monster to do whatever they want. Along the way, he learns about human emotions, including love. Like Malignant, this is horror escapism at its best. This movie is funny, endearing, and wildly entertaining.
Lucky/Directed by Natasha Kermani
When you think the slasher has exhausted itself post-Scream, then along comes a movie like Lucky to put a feminist bite on everything. The killer in this, who wears all black and a non-discreet mask, is a stand-in for daily misogyny that women face. He’s that creep who lurks in the parking lot or the boss who says a woman’s work is never good enough. Starring Brea Grant, who also penned the script, Lucky is a smart take on a familiar subgenre. Grant just may be a new horror queen.
Candyman/Directed by Nia DaCosta
Other than the stinker Halloween Kills, Candyman was undoubtedly the most hyped horror movie of 2021. Did it live up to that? Yes and no. It has an ending that feels totally rushed, but the film is utterly stunning and visually arresting. DaCosta took the familiar story of Candyman and expanded it to reflect the Black community’s pain in the age of BLM. Yet, she did so without ever coming across as heavy-handed. This is a movie that draws on both Black history and the history of a franchise. Oh, and the brief cameo by Tony Todd is totally worth the wait. What’s especially impressive about this movie is the way it combines a typical slasher with some stellar body horror and even possession, especially once Candyman starts to take over the body of artist/lead Anthony McKoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Let’s hope this isn’t DaCosta’s last entry in the horror genre, now that she’s been tapped by Marvel to direct a sequel to Captain Marvel.
Titane/Directed by Julia Ducournau
This, for me, is the best horror movie of the year, hands down. After Ducornau’s steller 2016 debut feature Raw (one of the best horror films of the last decade, if you ask me), everyone waited for her follow-up. She did not disappoint. The film follows the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who has a weird fetish for cars and eventually has sex with one. Yes, it’s an extremely bizarre storyline with heavy body horror. But the film has layers of human emotion, several narrative turns, gender-bending and the most dazzling visuals out of anything I’ve seen this year. Titane makes it clear that Ducornau is one of the most important directors working in horror right now and one of the most interesting young directors period. Oh, and Ducournau became the first woman in history to win the top Cannes prize, the Palme d’Or, solo.
The Vigil/Directed by Keith Thomas
Jakob’s Wife/Directed by Travis Stevens
The Beta Test/Directed by Jim Cummings
Most Looking Forward to in 2022:
Scream, Baby, Scream!
The three survivors are back! Let’s hope this rebooted slasher has more to offer than Halloween Kills did. All trailers look promising, and with how much technology and horror have changed and evolved, isn’t it time for a little Ghostface and a little meta commentary? If you’re worried about the fact Wes Craven isn’t the one behind the camera this time, fear not, the franchise is in good hands with Ready or Not directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Opin.
This was my favorite horror movie that played at Fantasia. It’s a black and white tale about the end of the world, and without giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that. So far, no word on a wide distribution release date, but hopefully it comes out in 2022.
The Last Thing Mary Saw
This is another one of my favorites from Fantasia. It’s folk-horror done well with a chilling atmosphere. and a truly creepy performance by Rory Culkin. It comes to Shudder in January.
Here’s hoping that 2022 goes better than 2020 and 2021. At the very least, there’s a lot more horror to look forward to in the new year!
With the year winding down, it’s time for another best-of list! This is a piece that I wrote for Signal Horizon, naming my favorite exclusive and original content on the horror streaming network, Shudder. My larger best-of horror list for 2021 is coming, and it’s likely at least 1-2 of these picks will end up on that broader list. You can read my Shudder list here.
Stay tuned for the other list coming soon!
If you’re looking for something to take away the post-Halloween blues like I am, then let me recommend checking out the newest special issue of Horror Homeroom on the “neo-slasher.” It’s jam-packed with content on the new Halloween films, a reimagining of the Final Girl, and a host of other topics. I’m happy to say that my essay on post-9/11 horror and slasher remakes entitled “A Tale of Two Remakes: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006),” is part of the issue. You can read the full issue here.
The trailer for the Scream reboot (Scream 5?) dropped today. The big 3, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Neve Campbell, are all reprising their roles. But the film will primarily feature a cast of young up-and-comers. Should the reboot (or sequel?) be successful, it’s likely this new cast will carry the franchise moving forward. With that said, here’s the trailer and a few of my thoughts:
- Will Stu (Matthew Lillard) or Randy (Jamie Kennedy) return? Okay, this premise seems far-fetched, but the film’s tagline is “It’s always someone you know.” It’s unlikely Randy will return. His death in Scream 2 was quite violent and done for emotional effect. If he does return, would he be the killer? I don’t see it happening. But what about Stu? Sid (Campbell) pushed a TV on his head. Maybe, just MAYBE, he could have survived that. Matthew Lillard has also been doing a TON of promo for the franchise lately, including conventions and heavy hype on Twitter this week.
- Could one of the big three be the killer? Again, I’m going back to the tagline….I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s not impossible. That would be quite the twist, eh? What if it’s Sid or Gale Weathers (Cox)?!
- Ghostface has mastered smart tech. Yep. He, or she, hacks apps and locks and unlocks doors. It’s a great update.
- Does Deputy Dewey (Arquette) take over Randy’s role? Randy was always the go-to film guy, the one who explained how to survive. In the trailer, Dewey explains the rules to the new group of teens. Perhaps he’s taking on Randy’s mantle? It would be a cool way to honor the first film and the character.
- Neve Campbell’s role will most likely be limited. It’s already been reported that Campbell only spent about two weeks filming. That’s not much time, but whatever her role, it’s sure to be important, even if she’s just a mentor to the new cast.
- Will one of the big three die? This is my biggest question, especially after watching the trailer. How do you outdo the iconic opening from the first film? Kill off Dewey, Gale, or Sid in the first 15-20 minutes. My money’s on Dewey. That could reunite Sid and Gale and really tug at the heartstrings, maybe as much as Randy’s death, if not more.
- Ghostface looks great! This trailer features Ghostface as much as it does Sid, and he, or she, looks damn cool! I especially like the shadow of Ghostface on the wall, with his (or her) arms outstretched. The kills also look quite gory, a sign of the times.
- The franchise is in good hands. Kevin Williamson is producing the new film, and Ready or Not directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have taken over directing duties from the late, great Wes Craven. Ready or Not is one of the strongest horror offerings of the last few years, a prefect mix of blood and comedy, much like the first Scream. Campbell has mentioned she returned due to the heartfelt letter these two sent her. They care about the franchise, and that mattered enough to Campbell to return as Sidney Prescott.
So who’s excited for the Scream reboot/sequel?
First, let me start off by saying PLEASE go to Rotten Tomatoes right now and read the reviews by Black critics on Candyman (2021). Those are the reviews what you sould read first, especially after you’ve seen the new movie and the 1992 OG version. Those critics can offer a take on this franchise that well, I really can’t. That said, after seeing the movie, I can’t stop thinking about it, both the good and the bad.
In Nia DaCosta’s “spirtual sequel,” Chicago’s Cabrini-Green is a gentrified neighborhood complete with high rises, Whole Foods, and hipster art galleries. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Anthony McCoy, an artist stuck in a serious rut, rehasing the same social/political art that he’s created for the last few years. After his girlfriend’s brother tells him the story of Candyman, he becomes obsessed with the urban legend and visits what remains of the projects, photographing graffettied walls while smashed glass crunches under his Converse. Colman Domingo plays old timer William Burke, who explains the lore and fuels Anthony’s obsession. He’s one of the last remanents of the Cabrini-Green projects and has one of the best bits of dialogue about an hour into the film about what Candyman is. In DaCosta’s film, he’s not only Tony Todd’s character. He’s a metaphor for Black oppression and violence, taking on many different faces and stories. “He’s the whole damn hive,” to quote Domingo’s character. Yet, even if DaCosta expands the lore, she doesn’t erase the story of Todd’s character or the events surrounding Helen (Virginia Madsen) from the first film. They are referenced quite a bit but placed in a larger, interesting context.
Teyonah Parris plays Brianna, Anthony’s girlfriend who also hustles around the art scene and is pretty much responsible for landing Anthony shows. As his behavior grows increasingly erratic and even dangerous, Brianna, of course, becomes alarmed. One of my main gripes about this film is that Brianna isn’t given a whole lot to do. There is major family trauma revealed through a flashback, but it’s just sort of…dropped. That’s a storyline that needed much more room to breathe. It’s utterly wasted potential. Further, Anthony isn’t given much depth beyond the brushtrocks and serving as a vessel, a body for Candyman to increasingly possess.
The film’s other main issue is the script, especially the last act. So much happens in the last 20-30 minutes that it will make your head spin. Not all of it makes sense. This film probably would have done better with a two hour runtime, as opposed to 90 minutes. There are too many ideas crammed into this movie, everything from gentrification, to Candyman’s lore, to police violence. The film never becomes didactic, but some of the ideas simply feel too thin, mere sketches than a fully realized story. That said, the first half of the film especially has some dazzling visuals. The kills astonish, especially the mirror motif. One bathroom sequence involving high school girls is one of the most innovative scenes in horror that I’ve witnessed all year. DaCosta is one heck of a filmmaker, and I can’t wait to see what she does with a project that isn’t saddled with so much backstory and history.
Overall, Candyman (2021) has some really great moments and a few cameos that I won’t mention because I want people to be surprised. I’m still thinking about it 24 hours after I saw it, and I suspect I’ll be thinking about it for some days to come yet. The visuals are strunning and the way that both Candyman and Cabrini-Green are expanded in the context of this franchise are fasicnating. This film is in conversation with the origional while managing to take some inventive leaps. That said, the narrative falters quite a bit as it rushes towards its conclusion.
Now, please, go to RT and check out those other reviews.
As I noted in my last post, the 72-year-old, historic Mahoning Drive-in in Lehighton, PA was in danger of closing after an energy company was about to buy the land, with plans to build a solar farm. Well, good news! The Mahoning Drive-in is staying open. The company, Green Skies, has pulled out of the deal and the Mahoning is safe. Further, the owner of the land has agreed to sell it to the drive-in operators. Talk about a storybook ending!
This was the company’s statement:
When Greenskies first discussed leasing the Mahoning Drive-In Theater property from the landowner more than six months ago, we were not aware of the cultural significance and nostalgic value the theater represented. We now recognize the importance of the Mahoning Drive-in to the community of Lehighton and film enthusiasts far and wide. We are engaging with the theater operator and the landowner to resolve the concerns of all the parties involved.”GREENSKIES CLEAN ENERGY
Kudos to the Green Skies for doing the right thing, and now the Drive-in lives to see another day and most likely, many years. It’s been a success story during the pandemic, and this is a fitting chapter to its long and storied history.
My fiance and I discovered the Mahoning Drive-in in Lehighton, PA about three years ago during their Universal Monster Mash weekend. We immediately fell in love with the place, including the beautiful farmland surrounding the venue to the fact they’re the only drive-in that plays 35 mm film. Since 2020, the Mahoning has recieved national press, including this article in the NYT from last week. It’s a positive story about how the Mahoning has survived and even thrived during the pandemic, as people seek safe forms of entertainment. Beyond that, though, the Mahoning has fostered a unique community at a time when people really need it. Movie lovers travel from well beyond NEPA to visit this place, and it’s been an economic boon to the greater areas of Jim Thorpe and Lehighton This weekend’s event, for instance, Joe Bob’s Jamboree, crashed the ticket site a few months ago. That’s how popular this drive-in and its events have become. The Mahoning is the type of place where you befriend people in the car next to you, and how often does something like that happen anymore?
Now, however, the 72-year-old drive-in is in danger of closing because a company wants to build a solar farm on the property. However, the staff (larely volunteer) has vowed to fight and needs help. This video explains what you can do:
Further, if you’ve been to the drive-in, or if you just want to preserve this historic landmark, you can share your support on social media and use the hashtags #SavetheMahoning, #GreenSkiesCleanEnergy, and #CFdevelopmentPenn. You can also access the company’s website here and leave a comment. Perhaps most importantly, if you’re local, consider joining the rally on August 3 at 7 pm that Virgil mentions in the video. This will determine whether or not the township will allow the company to proceed with the solar farm and grant the accomodations they need.
I’m all for green energy, and we desperately need to address the climate crisis, but as a resident of PA, I know there is plenty of land available in our state that can fit a solar farm without tearing down this drive-in.
Damn the man, save the empire!
This week was an eventful one for horror fans. First, the second trailer for Nia DaCosta’s Candyman dropped mid-week, and by the end of the week, Universal/Blumhouse released the new trailer for Halloween Kills, the sequel to Halloween 2018. Click here for an excellent breakdown of that Candyman trailer, written by Dani Bethea. Meanwhile, here are my initial thoughts on the Halloween Kills trailer (see below the link to the trailer).
- The film seemingly picks up right where 2018 left off. The first shot of the new trailer shows Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) with her daugther and granddaugther in toe, fleeing from the burning house where they “killed” Michael in the last film. The trio says, “no, no, no,” as firetrucks and amublances rush to the scene. Laurie hollers, “Let it burn!” This is likely to be an emotional opening.
- The trailer then cuts to Michael standing on the proch, flames roaring behind him. It’s a beautiful, cinematic scene, especially the middle-shot with his mask center frame. From there, Michael kills each firefigther one by one fairly easily.
- This is going to be a bloody, gory film. That scene with the firefigthers indicates such, along with some other kills shown in the trailer, specifically one featuring at least three-four victims (teens maybe?) wearing Silver Shamrock masks (nice nod to Halloween 3)!
- Laurie’s family finally believes her. Much of Halloween 2018 was about Laurie’s trauma from the intiial film and her family dismissing her pain. But now, her granddauther, Allyson (Andi Matichak), says, “The boogeyman is real. My grandmother was right.”
- Echoes of Halloween 2, maybe? It’s already been stated, and it’s clear in the trailer, that at least part of Halloween Kills will take place in a hospital. We see Laurie Strode in a white gown. Will the entire film mainly take place in a hospital like Halloween 2? Judging by the trailer, it seems unlikely, but still, it’s a nice nod to Halloween 2.
- Michael becomes the hunted. The second half of the trailer focuses on the town coming together, wielding shotguns, ready to hunt down Michael, led by Laurie Strode.
- The return of some OG characters. It’s already been stated that Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace (the charming kids Laurie babysat in the first film) will return for this sequel. Their characters are likely to feed into the storyline about a town’s collective trauma and its need to defeat the boogeyman.
Overall, it looks like Halloween Kills is going to be a fun, bloody good time. If there’s anything you noticed in the trailer, feel free to comment! Here’s to counting down until October.
Believe it or not, in 2021, we’re going to have a never-before-seen Ceorge A. Romero movie. That film is The Amusement Park, shot in 1973 for the Luterhan Society as a means to raise awareness about elderly abuse. The film was lost for years but recently restored and rediscovered thanks to the George A. Romero Foundation and IndieCollect. Shot between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the 53-minute-long film debuts on Shudder on June 8.
There are no zombies in this one, but it’s on par with some of the most terrifying films the master of horror has ever directed. The amusement park concept stands as a terrifying and surreal allegory about the way we abuse the elderly. Lincoln Maazel’s nameless character suffers one abuse after another, from ticket vendors, to a biker gang, to dismissive youth who walk by as he writhes on the ground in pain. No supernatural elements are needed in this nightmareish vision of a careless and cruel society. Romero has always presented humans as worse than the monster, and this certainly rings true here.
For more of my thoughts on the film, check out my review for Signal Horizon.